The Alliance for Safe Online Pharmacy (ASOP EU) as a Civil Society member of the European Observatory on Infringements of Intellectual Property Rights was invited to speak along with the National Association of Boards of Pharmacy (NABP) at the recent Working Group sessions held in Brussels from 16 to 18 April 2018.

The work streams form the basis on which the EUIPO sets its IP strategy and develops practical tools and initiatives to tackle counterfeiting activities across Europe. The WGs comprise Enforcement, Public Awareness, IP in the Digital World, Enforcement, Legal and International. Participants shared insightful ideas and many projects were discussed with the aim of educating the public and to identify best practices. The importance of enforcement in intellectual property (IP) protection and the establishment of new anti-counterfeiting infrastructures have been recognised as key to decisively restrict the access to illegal sites, stop illegal distribution and therefore create a safe online environment.

During the Common Plenary Session of 18 April, Mr Martin Allain, Senior Program Manager of the .Pharmacy Verified Websites Program, and Ms Melissa Madigan, NABP Policy and Communications Director, introduced the .Pharmacy domain, a valuable means in online consumer protection which provides a complementary security measure for finding safe internet pharmacies and related resources. 96% of over 11,700 websites selling medicine online have been found to be operating illegally and might be selling falsified or counterfeit drugs.

Mike Isles, ASOP EU Executive Director, was given the floor and took the opportunity to state “As such we wholly endorse the activities and good governance that the NABP brings to this top level domain name .Pharmacy. NABP is paving the way for best practice whilst at the same time being leaders in understanding patients’ needs and how to collaborate with key actors, such as online platforms”.

ASOP EU truly believes that this initiative complements the Falsified Medicines Directive (FMD) which obliges all EU Member States to allow the sale of medicines over the Internet. Article 85d of the FMD legally obliges all Member States to also publicize the meaning of a falsified medicine and the Common Logo (which has to appear on every web page selling a medicine and which when clicked routes through to an official country registry).

Over the past months, Mike said “ASOP EU has run 6 meetings with Member States and has been tracking the extent to which EU countries are meeting the obligation enshrined in Article 85d via public awareness campaigns. A report has been written on this. It is clear that Member States are not fulfilling it very well. Therefore, ASOP EU, via its sharing best practice meetings, is trying to augment this process and would call on all who can support the raising of public awareness to do so.

Announced at the EUIPO Observatory meeting in Brussels was the MoU between ASOP EU and TaC-Together against Cybercrime International (TaC) to educate the public about fake medicines by developing the Youth IGF Movement, a multi-stakeholder platform which provide educational material to train people worldwide and contribute to solving this alarming, global problem. The only really effective way to stop the criminals is by educating the public about the risks of buying medicines online. The vast majority of people does not understand there are numerous fake websites operating illegally. If we can educate and stop the demand that is the more than half the battle won”, emphasised Mike Isles and Yuliya Morenets, TaC Executive Director.

In parallel to these meetings, ASOP EU and NABP met in Brussels with several officials of the Directorate-General for Communications Networks, Content and Technology (DG CONNECT) of the European Commission, including Mr Pearse O'Donohue, Director on Future Networks, Ms Cristina Monti, Head of Sector on Internet governance and Stakeholders'‚Äč engagement, Mr Horst Jürgen Krämer and Ms Soushma Sougoumarin from the Unit H.3 on eHealth, Well-being & Ageing [please see pictures in attachment]. All meetings represented a valuable opportunity to raise awareness and exchange useful information on current activities with regard to illegal content online, falsified medicines and the meaning of the Common Logo on legal online pharmacies.

The European Commission is adopting a data package that will be available on 25 April 2018 as part of the Digital Single Market (DSM) strategy. The main actions are the revision of the .eu top-level domain (TLD) regulations and the Communication addressing the need and scope for measures on digital health and care, in line with legislation on the protection of personal data, patient rights and electronic identification.

Amongst the key takeaways from the discussions, the high level of understanding and the need to join hands and marry policies to solve urgent issues on data sharing, IP rights and safe pharmacy practices were highlighted, in addition to raising awareness and educating the general public, increasing interaction tools and cooperating with offices at all levels of governance in EU Member States.